father a respected Uvalde
County rancher, the quiet, good-looking Guy O. Fenley seemed
like a typical teenager except for one thing – newspapers called
him the “wonderful boy…with X-ray vision.”
One night in 1896 Joel Fenley had been walking in one of his pastures
with Guy tagging along.
“Look at that stream of water,” the boy said excitedly to his father.
The elder Fenley knew his property. They were nowhere near any water.
But the boy insisted he saw flowing water – underground.
Back home, Fenley filled a wooden bucket with water, had his son
go into another room and then placed the bucket under a wooden table.
Dousing the lights, he led the boy back into the room and asked
him to point to the spot on the table corresponding with the bucket
below. The boy did.
Soon after, Fenley asked his son to show him again where he had
“seen” the underground water. Fenley hired a driller and he hit
water at 167 feet.
of the boy’s supposed visual acuity began to spread, but most folks
had a hard time believing it. That doubt began to erode when people
heard what happened on the Thomas Devine Ranch. After walking around
for a couple of hours, Fenley excitedly said he had found flowing
water about 175 feet down. The boy indicated several locations where
he said water lay near the surface. Each spot produced a well.
In January 1901, early during that year’s legislative session, Alpine
Rep. Wigfall Van Sickle had a conversation with Uvalde Rep. John
Nance Garner about the trouble he had been having trying to find
water on his Big Bend ranch.
The future vice president suggested that Van Sickle get in touch
with one of his constituents, Joel Fenley. Word had it that Fenley’s
son could see underground water.
While that sounded far-fetched, both legislators knew that some
people did seem able to find water with willow divining rods. Hoping
that young Guy was one of those so-called “water witches,” Van Sickle
invited the Fenleys to Alpine
to see if the boy could help him.
Van Sickle had already sunk $1,500 into a 607-foot dry hole on his
Glass Mountains ranch. In short order, the boy identified two points
where he said water would be found. Both resulted in a well. Guy
reportedly also found water on the previously dry Big
Bend ranches of two uncles.
long after visiting Alpine,
Fenley’s story broke nationally. First appearing as a letter from
someone in Austin to the
St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the story ran in the Galveston News Feb.
The article said Guy had recently been offered $500 to find water
on F.K. Moore’s ranch in Edwards
County. He refused taking any money for his services, but he
found water on the place.
An editor in Galveston
had asked the newspaper’s Austin
correspondent to check with Garner about the boy’s reputed gift.
The journalist wired back: “He says it is not a fake. He knows the
boy personally, and has seen him locate water underground. Whether
he has ‘X-Ray’ eyes or not Mr. Garner does not presume to know,
but he says the facts related are true.”
have claimed x-ray vision over the years, but they have never successfully
demonstrated their powers to scientists using standard experimental
protocols. In the case of more high-profile climants, one common
factor appears to be an association between their power and the
receipt of something of value for their services. But no evidence
has turned up that Fenley or his family ever tried to capitalize
on “the wonderful boy’s” supposed ability.
In the early 1900s, the media loved to perpetrate or at least circulate
hoax stories, from tales of petrifieid giants to people with super
powers. Most of those tended to be created of whole cloth, but Guy
Fenley was a real person from a no-nonsense, well-thought-of Texas
family. His relatives did not know how he did what he did, but they
the spring of 1901, a reporter for the San Antonio Express
interviewed Joel Fenley.
“I can no more explain it than anybody else,” the teenager’s father
said. “I have thoroughly tested the matter and am convinced that
the boy can see as he says. I am naturally adverse to anything connected
to claims of supernatural power or of a superstitious nature and
would not believe my son’s statements until he convinced me of its
truth by many demonstrations.”
Then the newsman asked Fenley if he could speak with his son privately.
The father agreed.
Describing the boy as “averse to talking about his visual endowments,”
the journalist managed to get this quote:
“I don’t know.… I can just see the water, just like you can see
something in the street out there. That’s all I know about it. I
just see it, that’s all.”
When he grew up, Fenley took up ranching in Zavala
County, where he later served as a county clerk. Whether his
power continued or waned went unreported. He died in 1968 at 79.
While mainstream researchers insist no real science lies behind
the claims of those who say they can find water beneath the ground,
more than a century after “the wonderful boy” made national headlines,
Guy Fenley’s purported power remains unexplained.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" June
9, 2011 column